Gender Diversity in Cycling: Time For A Shift? (Guest Post)

I transitioned from triathlon to cycling about 18 months ago. I made the switch after completing an Ironman, wanting a change, and enjoying my time in the saddle more than the time spent running or swimming. Over the past few years, I’ve seen the field of triathlon working to recruit and retain more women in the sport (as evidenced by the hugely popular Facebook group, Women for Tri). I hoped for a similar dynamic with cycling, but had just moved across the country for a new job and was not sure where to find a community of rad cyclists. I started by searching for groups online, found one with similar speed and distance to fit my training, and was launched into what became a new norm for my next year: being one of the only women on a group ride surrounded by several men. I’ve generally been treated really well and I can’t thank many of them enough for making me who I am today. I’m a much stronger cyclist thanks to their challenging group rides and much of their ongoing support. But we’ve got work to do.

Reflecting back on my transition to cycling, I think I expected to find similar dynamics to triathlon—plenty of women at races, large Facebook groups for women to share advice and experiences, and plenty of group rides and teams to train with or race for without the fear of getting dropped. Unfortunately, I think I was naive and mistaken in a few ways. Field sizes for women in many of the events I’ve done are only about 15%—especially gravel, cyclocross, and fat biking. Women and gender diverse athletes are sorely underrepresented in this sport. I’ve scoured the literature to identify potential reasons for the gap. Some say it’s a lack of confidence or skill with mechanical abilities. Others say lack of time to train due to childcare and domestic responsibilities. Some note a lack of navigation skills needed for gravel or discomfort being in the middle of nowhere. Others reflect on a lack of safety, whether due to car traffic, crashing, or sexual harassment.

Many of those factors, however, are specific to one discipline or one community, have small sample sizes, are published by men, and/or completely exclude cyclists who do not identify as cisgender men or women. And while I appreciate the important work on these issues, I think the gender gaps go a lot deeper than what the literature has said thus far. I believe we need a more comprehensive understanding of the experiences of women and gender diverse cyclists in order to decrease disparities in the field. I believe it’s time to share our stories.

My experiences as a white cisgender woman in cycling over the past year have been exciting, nerve wracking, challenging, and empowering. They have also been colored by microaggressions, sexist comments, harassment, and exclusion. I love this sport and so many aspects of this community. I want to stay engaged. But I also know we can do better by stepping up our game and working hard to understand the experiences of that 15%. After identifying what has helped and hurt us over the years, we can work to shift our culture to one with more diversity and representation.

Aside from my identity as a cyclist, I am a feminist, a sport psychologist, a professor, and a researcher. As a feminist, it’s important for me to 1) own my biases that stem from my own experiences; and 2) recognize that the personal is political. I’m doing this project because of my own experiences and because I want our community to do better. The disheartening moments I’ve had over the past year have lit a fire inside of me and have motivated me to take on a piece of this puzzle.

This past week, I launched an international research project for women, trans*, femme, non-binary, genderqueer, and two spirit cyclists who have raced over the past 5 years. The survey asks about factors that have increased and decreased participation in competitive cycling, as well as motivations and experiences in daily living. I ask for stories of exclusion, harassment, and sexism—in addition to times cyclists have felt valued.

As an incentive, I’ve secured money to donate $2/person to charity for the first 250 participants. (It’s not much, but it’s something.) I’ll present the findings in my community, at conferences, and to anyone who wants to listen. I’ll also write up the findings for publication to help us shed some light on gender gaps and increase retention of women and gender diverse cyclists throughout the world.

If you are a woman and/or a gender diverse cyclist who has raced in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story.  What has pushed you away?  What helps you to keep going strong?  I’ll share mine in a post to come.

Link to survey is as follows:

 Erin, a dark haired woman with her hair pulled back, looks onto another spectator while wearing her cycling kit after one of her first cyclocross races. She is leaning forward on her bike. Her sunglasses are resting on top of her head, her jersey is zipped down, and her hair is wet from sweat. Photo Credit: Carlos Sabillon
Erin, a dark haired woman with her hair pulled back, looks onto another spectator while wearing her cycling kit after one of her first cyclocross races. She is leaning forward on her bike. Her sunglasses are resting on top of her head, her jersey is zipped down, and her hair is wet from sweat. Photo Credit: Carlos Sabillon

Erin is a professor, psychologist, researcher, feminist, spouse, and cyclist. When she is not working, she spends her time training for new cycling adventures, eating, laughing, and spending time with loved ones.



competition · race report · racing

Duathlon, anyone?

Kincardine 2016 pre race
Susan, Tara, Sarah, Sam, Anita, Tracy right before the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon (um, make that a duathlon).

For the second time in four years, those of us who signed up for the triathlon ended up in a duathlon instead. Kincardine is on Lake Huron, and Lake Huron is a changeable and sometimes fierce lake. In 2013 they cancelled the swim because of frigid water. On Saturday the water was warm enough that I’d contemplated forgoing my wetsuit to decrease my T1 time. But then they cancelled the swim because of rough water. And then it rained a bit. And the weather turned much cooler than you’d expect in July.

Some (most) of our crew had already signed up for the duathlon, which had been scheduled to go out in two waves.  The triathlon would go out in three. They kept the waves the same, so the people who’d originally signed up for the duathlon competed as a distinct category from those who’d originally planned for the triathlon. It made for a somewhat confusing start, but we all found our way to the starting line.

Here’s how it went.


Last year I completed the Kincardine Du in 1:05:04.  So, I set a lofty goal of completing the race in under 1 hour and I knew in setting that goal that I may be setting myself up for disappointment.  I completed the race this year in 1:03 and indeed I find myself somewhat disappointed in my results.  On one hand, my run times were some of the best I’ve ever run at 5:16/km so I’m very pleased with that.  However, my bike time was only marginally faster than last year and I had hoped that I would see a bigger difference given that I have a faster bike this year (clearly it’s not all about the bike that one rides).

I finished in the top third of the pack and for that I am very pleased!  What I know now is that when in the top third of the pack and setting goals that I need to go easier on myself because marginal improvements make a big difference in the finish positions.  I’m close to that sub 1 hour and with some specific bike training I think I can get there next year!  I still love this race, it’s short and fast.  Having some experience doing this race last year gave me the confidence this year to push myself harder in the run segments.  There’s value in experience in these types of races and I’m excited for what next year will bring at Kincardine!


I enjoyed the race this year despite making the poor choice to run the second 3 km barefoot.

Although it was a fun day, I have decided to commit to training before I sign up for another year.  It was frustrating to be unprepared – I feel like I missed an opportunity to push myself.  Lack of training is a convenient excuse.  I’m done using it.


What a hoot!  I’m in for multi-sport racing from here on in.  I’m not a confident cyclist but with the adrenaline flowing I was able to enjoy the ride in a way I’ve only experienced with running before. The lesson I took away from the day: get into the open water more often. Our swim was cancelled, thank Venus, but the fact that I was so nervous about the swim–even though I’m strong enough in a pool–tells me that I have work to do there, if only on the mental side.

I was really impressed by the camaraderie on display at this event, and by the local support for all the competitors–I’ll definitely be back!


I was a little blasé going into Kincardine 2016 but it turned me right around, right away. Tracy and I got there the night before under the threat of rain and lightning, but during a break in the storm we got to walk along the beach after doing a bike check with the volunteer bike mechanic. The whole evening was pretty peaceful. Before going to bed we had a nice visit with Susan and Tara who were staying at the same hotel.  It was great running weather the next morning, but unfortunately it was a bit too rough for swimming (poor Tracy – she had been really looking forward to the swim). So we all did the run, then the bike, and then the run. I don’t remember much except saying to myself that if I wanted to quit after the bike I could (but I didn’t). I just kept thinking “slow and steady wins the race” to keep me shuffling through that last run on very tired legs. And then it was over. I felt AWESOME. I felt like an ATHLETE again with my PB.

PS Of course a shout out to the terrific team is in order: Tara, Susan, Sam, Tracy, Sarah, Alison, Jennifer – it wouldn’t have been as fun without you all!


I knew going into the duathlon that I hadn’t trained the run enough. The multisport veterans warned me that it would be hard to keep running once I’d been on the bike. And I know I’m slower in humid weather, even when it’s not hot. (I might be gritting my teeth not to have them chatter in the picture!) But wow, what a slog! I followed my race plan, carefully keeping my speed down on the first run, maintaining my favourite, slow, “I could do this all day” pace, trying to keep my legs as fresh as possible. I loved the bike segment, head down, cadence up, steadily passing people I’d lost sight of on the run, remembering to keep drinking. I took my time on the transition to the second run, even downing a gel and a few more mouthfuls of water before heading out. The next 3 km were a blur of leaden legs, pounding heart, and frequent short walk breaks just to keep moving safely forward. Ugh. But I still had an absolute blast, there was a wonderful camaraderie among the participants and especially our team. I’m inspired to train running for the first time in ages and I look forward to trying a duathlon again some day. Fun!


Sometimes I feel like my Kincardine race reports are a testimony to getting old and slow. Like Tara I used to have dreams of doing this event in under an hour. My fastest time was for the full  triathlon at just over 1:10. When I finished the relay version of the triathlon we finished in 52:57. No pesky transitions, no tired legs. Since I’ve been doing the duathlon though my fastest time has been 1:18 and change. This race was slower than that, 1:22:15. But I was 5th in my age group. So there’s that. And I was in the top half of the bike times. As a cyclist, I like that!

But, forgetting times and competition, I had a blast. Why? Well, super fun doing the race with friends, family, colleagues, and co-bloggers! Fun racing with Sarah for whom it was her first ever multisport event. I love the course out along the beach.  I love the age range and the inclusion of athletes with disabilities. I love the community involvement and being cheered on by so many happy people. I love that the distance is accessible to people who aren’t necessarily that athletic but at the same time it’s a super speedy challenge for the fast, fit folk.

Notably I did the running parts at a slow reasonable, non knee injuring pace. No pain during or after and that made me smile a lot. Thanks Sarah for the quick tutorial on pacing the week before. It really helped.

Hopes and dreams for 2017? Doing it again and this time being able to train without hurting my knee. You know, the usual hope and dream!


When we arrived and I heard they’d decided to hold off on distributing the swim caps because they wanted to wait until 8:30 to “call the swim,” I wanted to shake my fists at the heavens. The night before the lake had been calm and warm. But when I peeked over the berm between the park and the beach an hour before the start time, the lake had transformed — breaking waves and gusty winds.

When I ran into Alison in the body-marking and timing chip line, she was contemplating whether to wear the wetsuit. “That’s if they don’t cancel the swim,” I said. And before she got to the front of the line they did cancel it.

Since I had high hopes for a faster swim (but it may not have been faster given the conditions) and run this year, I felt disappointed. But at least I didn’t experience the same dread as I had in 2013. That time I had very little running experience, so the idea of doing not one but two runs put the fear into me. This time, I’d been training a lot lately to push myself as hard as possible for 3K (which is the run distance for the triathlon run and for both duathlon runs). I couldn’t do it as fast as I could swim, but I could definitely do it a lot faster than I could four years ago, which was the last time I did a duathlon.

Well lo and behold! I shaved over 11 minutes off of my 2013 duathlon time. I postively impressed myself with both runs, pacing at 6:01/km for the first one and 6:14/km for the second. For me, that’s amazing and meant I did the first run in 18:03, which is the fastest 3K I’ve ever run, and the second in 18:41. I shaved a tiny bit off of last year’s bike leg, but since they roll T1+bike+T2 all together and since I didn’t swim this year so my T1 was swift, I think that means my bike leg took me a bit longer (my T1+bike+T2 time: 33:56 to last year’s 34:02). So we know where the work needs to happen and that’s no surprise to me. This is the consequence of giving in to my road phobia and not training on the bike.

I feel good about my run progress, but I need to not compare myself to others (I finished 17/26 in my age group, though if I’d entered into the duathlon from the beginning I would actually have placed). Lots of women finished in under an hour, which always impresses me and is totally out of reach for me in the duathlon (not the triathlon, where it could happen if I train on the bike enough to get my time under 30 minutes), which took me 1:10:39. And for the very first time I successfully used the multi-sport function on my Garmin. So there’s that cool thing. I had fun again this year. I think a lot about the whys and wherefores of comparing and “doing better” and being “slow,” and all that jazz.

In the end, Kincardine is an event where you can enjoy yourself no matter how you do. It’s always a blast to go with the group–look at our smiles. And the organizers do a fantastic job (though I wish they would get women to do the announcing). And I love the red New Balance tank tops they gave us this year, along with the re-designed medals.

The professors, post-race. Anita, Sam, Tracy, and Alison.
The professors, post-race. Anita, Sam, Tracy, and Alison.







When “pathetic” loses its irony

Awhile back I joined the Facebook group Pathetic Triathletes. It’s a fairly large, closed group. You need to be admitted into it by the admin. But there’s no screening going on, and it’s got over 7000 members.

With a name like “Pathetic Triathletes” you can imagine that the purpose of the group is to give triathletes a place for mutual support, information-sharing, encouragement, and so on, while also keeping it light. The “pathetic” is meant to be ironic and funny. A little bit self-depracating, a little bit of a reminder not to take ourselves so seriously.

People post about their successes. People post about their failures and mishaps. Failures, mishaps, questions that we assume we should already know the answers to but don’t — all of these are followed by the hashtag #pathetic.

So far so good. I myself have been known to take things too seriously. So what harm could it possibly do to be part of a Facebook group that favours the lighter side of triathlon?

Well, this past weekend I got the answer to my question when I waded into reading the comment thread after someone posted a link to Ragen Chastain’s post “When On-Line Trolls Become Real-Life Stalkers.”  As if the title of her post isn’t harrowing enough, the contents is downright frightening. She’s harassed daily by haters on-line in comments on her blog, her Facebook page, on reddit, in fat-hate forums (which, in my naivete, I didn’t even know existed but why should I be surprised).

The on-line stalking moved into real life when she attempted an Ironman 70.3 recently. Here’s some of what happened:

The short story of the IM 70.3 is that I took 2 minutes too long on the swim and got pulled off the course.  After changing out of my wetsuit I got my phone and posted to my FB wall:

IM 70.3 was a Total disaster, way worse than my worst case scenario. 2 minutes over the time in the swim, didn’t even get on the bike. Thanks to everyone for your support. Sucks to have a setback like this, but now I have a year to get ready so I don’t feel like this next year at the full ironman. I’ll post a race report in at some point.

My family and I decided to go grab some lunch and by the time we got to the restaurant my FB page was trollapalooza – party at Reddit’s house and everyone’s invited!  They were also engaging in one of their very favorite pastimes – lying to accuse me of lying.

But the creepier part of it was an athlete sidling up to her before the race to ask if she was bothered by what was said on reddit that morning. They had a brief interaction and she suspected he was a troll because he didn’t agree when she made negative comments about people who spend their time dissing her on reddit. After the race:

After the race I would find out that prior to the race the anti-me website had posted a minute by minute schedule of where I would be, including updating the site about my choice to wear my wetsuit and my 7:45am start time which I had talked about on my blog.

After my race ended, various forums and websites posted pictures and video that were taken of me and my family, some taken by people standing just feet away from me. Many of the pictures were taken after I had gotten out of the water and exited the athlete area, meaning that they couldn’t have been taken by someone competing in the race.  People online bragged about stalking me and my family, saying horrible things about my partner, my mother, and my best friend and his husband.

This may or may not have had anything to do with the guy who chatted with her before the swim. She has a point when she says she:

…tried to calculate the odds that someone who just happened to stumble upon a reddit forums about me ended up standing next to me in a group of 1600 athletes, recognized me in a wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles, and thought it was appropriate to ask about a forum devoted to hating me, in a way that assumed I both knew about it and checked the forum.

Now, enter the Pathetic Triathletes Facebook group. You’d expect a group that is supposedly supportive of all levels of triathletes from beginners to veterans, and who tries not to take itself too seriously (#pathetic!) to rally round a triathlete, any triathlete, who is brave enough to get out there and attempt at 70.3 distance event.

And some people did. But an alarming number of people jumped in and started saying similar things to the sorts of things she says are said by the haters and trolls on a regular basis.  And the meanness just kept on coming. And coming. And coming.

Where were the admin in all of this? I do not know. I think they eventually took it down. Either that or it fell so far down the page that I couldn’t find it when I went to show it to Sam because I was so astonished.  But not just astonished, also incredibly disturbed.

The vitriol just seemed so out of place for a group that presents itself as a welcoming community with a sense of humor. The fat-hate just kept on coming. And personal attacks on Ragen Chastain, accusing her of lying, of not really having the goals she has or the doing the training she does.  The assumption is that no one her size could possibly be doing what she is doing.  It’s a caricature of all the most entrenched prejudices and misguided assumptions about the relationship between body size, body fat, on the one hand, and health and the capacity to participate in athletic activities, on the other hand.

The comments also have a misogynistic gendered element to them that make them even more difficult to hear. Who but the most entitled and privileged members of our world think they have the right to say shit like that openly and earnestly in a Facebook Group?

I’ve struggled with the irony from the beginning because I guess in some ways I don’t actually think that claiming to be pathetic, even if meant to be ironic, is the best way to bolster confidence and feel good about what you’re doing.

But there was no irony in the hateful comment thread that followed Ragen Chastain’s post about her trolls and stalkers. Pathetic in the truest sense of the world. Like, what’s it to them that this woman wants to do triathlon? Why can’t she just do her thing and be left alone? It’s astonishing that people would have such a violent reaction when her efforts have literally no impact on their lives at all. Like, nothing. It’s sad.

So I left the group. And I have to say that despite the presence of lots of supportive and encouraging members, I cannot in good conscience recommend the group to anyone with an interest in body-positivity and feminism. You may as well go straight to reddit if you want read abusive hate against women who don’t conform to the narrow standards of femininity deemed acceptable by self-appointed gate-keepers.

It’s not that Ragen Chastain can’t stand her own against these types of people. She doesn’t need to be rescued. And thankfully she’s got more supportive fans than vocal trolls and stalkers. But I’m not about to stick around in a group where people feel entitled to talk that kind of fat-hating, misogynistic shit.

And I wish Ragen all the best in her quest to compete in an Ironman next year. You can follow her journey at IronFat.

fitness · racing · triathalon

In Transition: A Non-Expert Chimes in about T1 and T2

transition set-up, Kincardine Women's Triathlon 2014 -- running shoes, bike shoes, ball cap, bathing cap, socks, gel shots, bike helmet, race bib on belt, small towel, on a half towel beside my bike.
My transition set-up, Kincardine Women’s Triathlon 2014.
As Kincardine approaches, a couple of my friends who are doing a multi-sport event for the first time have asked me about the transitions. People spend a lot of time talking about multi-sport training, but I remember like it was yesterday when, two years ago in the lead up to my first triathlon (also the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon) it dawned on me that I needed to “set up” my transition area and I had no clue what that meant.

Enter a whole new thing to worry about.  So, in the hopes of fending off worries for some of the newbies out there, today’s post is about setting up the transition area and about managing the transitions as swiftly as possible (in relative terms — there will be nothing here about a running bike start in bare feet with the shoes already clipped into the pedals).

But before you get to the transition, it’s a good idea to have a checklist of what you need to pack. This one is liberally borrowed and adapted from a checklist that a friend of mine who joined a triathlon training group at our local Y gave me. I’ve added some of my own notes in square brackets and though I do not know who the author(s) of this document were, I am grateful to them for providing some guidance and for much of the content that follows (yes, I’m an academic).

For the swim: wetsuit [if you’re wearing one], goggles, swimsuit or triathlon suit, swim cap or race cap (in your race kit–you’ll only need both if the water is chilly), 2 towels (a set-up towel and a drying towel–[I have found that a small towel is good for drying]).  [Note: I also need very good ear plugs because excruciating ear aches took me out of swimming for a number of years until I discovered ear plugs for swimming.]

For the bike: bike [with adequately inflated tires], helmet, socks [if wearing], bike shoes [if clipless pedals, otherwise running shoes], sunglasses, shirt if you’re riding in a swimsuit, with race # pinned to the front [I recommend a race belt because ideally your number will be in the back for the bike, the front for the run], a pump, portable flat kit on the bike [assuming you know how to change a tire, of course, since it won’t do you a whole lot of good if you don’t know how to use it], full water bottle on the bike in your water bottle holder.

For the run: running shoes, hat

Also recommended: sunscreen (sport style), water, energy drink, banana and whatever other race nutrition you like to have on hand for pre- and post-race, as well as during, duffle bag or triathlon bag for carrying everything, jacket if it’s cold, body glide (for helping with the wetsuit and also for bike shorts chamois or other sensitive areas where you might get chafing)

Optional: race belt (attach number), quick-tie shoelaces, GPS watch, garbage bags in case of rain or wet ground [I also pack a shoe horn and it saves me time because I can pre-tie my running shoe laces]

Okay, so that’s what you need to bring. I have an excellent Zoot triathlon backpack style tri-bag for toting everything. It’s got multiple compartments including a special spot for the bike helmet and another for the wetsuit.

Now it’s when I saw that list that I started to panic. But maybe you’re one of those more reasonable people who can keep in mind that knowledge is power, and knowing what to pack puts you in a better position to handle race day well.

So, as promised, here are the goods on transitions, based on my limited experience over the past couple of years.


1. When you get to the race, the first thing you will do is rack your bike. The racks are usually grouped by event (triathlon/duathlon) and by either bib number or age group/gender.  Find your rack and pick a spot. Hook your bike on the cross bar by the seat, and if there is a bike beside, hook yours in so it’s facing the opposite way (so you’re alternating sides of the rack and aren’t on top of each other during transitions).

Get a visual bearing on your location — both the location of the rack (e.g. fifth rack on the right as you come into the transition from the swim, lines up with the trash can over there) and the location of your bike within the rack (e.g. the first bike after the third post). Some people put something neon or otherwise distinctive on or near their bike so they can see it when they come in.

You also want to be clear before the race start exactly where you come in from the swim, where the bike exit is, and where the run exit is.

2. Fold your ground towel in half and lay it on the ground right beside your bike. Space is limited and you are expected not to take up a lot of space. If you look at the picture at the top of the post, that’s about all the space I had.

3. Place bike helmet, straps open and hollow side up, either on your handlebars or on the towel beside your bike, and put the sunglasses in the helmet with their arms open, ready to put on.

4. Water bottle on bike, full.

5. Shoes and socks on towel, laces undone and ready to put on (or, if you’re like me, laces done just how you want them, plus a shoe horn).

6. Shirt on towel with bib pinned to front OR if you’re wearing a suit have race belt ready with the bib number attached and the belt open, placed on your helmet or shoes.

7. Put your drying towel on the set-up so that it’s easy to grab when you get back from your swim.

8. Put your running cap or visor with your running shoes.

9. Race nutrition if needed should also be on the towel or already on your bike, ready to go. Sometimes I put an extra water bottle on the towel to grab a quick drink before heading out but I’m not sure that’s recommended since it takes up valuable transition time.

T1: Swim to Bike

1. As you’re coming out of the water, start running towards the transition. Put your goggles on your head (leave goggles and swimcap on so you have two free hands). Peel your wetsuit down to your waist. Finish taking it off when you get to your set-up. Leave it, cap and goggles on the ground beside your bike (not on the rack — that’s not allowed).

2. Step on towel to dry feet as quickly as possible (they don’t need to be perfect!) and then pull on your socks.

3. Put on your bike shoes (or running shoes)

4. Put on your t-shirt or, if wearing a tri suit, your race belt with number to the back.

5. Put on your sunglasses.

6. Don the helmet and do up the strap — you must not touch your bike until the strap is done up (doing so is grounds for disqualification).

7. Run with your bike to the “Bike Out” and when you get to the “mount/dismount line” (and not before!), cross the line, get on your bike, and ride as if someone is chasing you and you don’t want to get caught.

T2: Bike to run

1. Dismount at the dismount line (do not cross the line on your bike or you may be disqualified) and run with your bike back to your transition spot.

2. Re-rack the bike.

3. Remove your helmet (make sure you do this in the right order: re-rack the bike first, remove the helmet second)

4. Change your shoes if you’re wearing bike shoes

5. Switch your number to the front if you’re wearing a race belt

6. Grab your hat

6. Run out the “Run Out” chute. I find this is a good time to bring in positive self-talk, smile at people, and remind myself of my awesomeness for being out there and doing this!

Finish Line

The Y-group’s checklist and transition guidelines sheet says this about the finish line:

Big smile for camera and FANS You made it!! Enjoy the moment; congratulate yourself and your fellow competitors. You are now a Triathlete!

Yay you!

The finish line is for hugging friends and loved ones and fellow competitors, for photo-ops, for re-hydrating, and for finding some post-race food. At Kincardine, they always serve sausages, which, as a vegan, I don’t eat. But there is also a little snack hut on the beach and they make awesome fries. So that is my post-rate “nutrition” after Kincardine.

I hope this annotated overview helps to alleviate some stress for anyone who is doing a triathlon for the first time, including my newbie friends who are joining me at my favourite event of the season, The Kincardine Women’s Triathlon, Saturday, July 11th, 2015.

Other tips and suggestions are more than welcome! Please comment with them if you have experience to share! 

Sat with Nat

5 weeks until the Woodstock Sprint Triathlon!


The weather is stunning here in London Ontario and it is 5 weeks until I return to the Woodstock Sprint Distance Triathlon. I did this race 2 years ago with my awesome sister Angela. It was a 500 m swim, a 20 km bike and a 4 km run. My time to beat is 2:20:11.19. Oh ya, I finished DEAD LAST.

So I’m scrolling through this year’s info and I notice an important thing….

The distances have changed. It’s now a 750 m swim, 20 km bike, and 5 km run. I’m assuming that’s a standard Sprint distance. I’m sure that was communicated and honestly I probably deleted that email…blah blah blah whatever. Until I thought about my time to beat.


I figure 20 minutes for the swim, 45-55 minutes for the bike and…ugh..45 minutes for the run. I should get done in under 2 hours. Maybe. Oh who cares, really, I’m back to racing and that is what matters. Watch for me at the end..the very end, I will be smiling and having a great time 🙂

racing · triathalon

Race Report: Because Doing the Olympic Distance Once before I Turn 50 Just Wasn’t Good Enough!

Starting the 10K run after the swim and bike on Sunday.
Starting the 10K run after the swim and bike on Sunday. Photo credit: Sam.

Last Sunday at Lakeside I did it again. Right up to the day before it was one of those “if I hadn’t signed up I wouldn’t be doing this” kind of things. But I did sign up and I said I would do and Lakeside is where my club trains.

And now I have one more Olympic distance triathlon to my name: 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike ride, and 10 km run. Bam!

You may recall (or not, but I do!) that I struggled through the Bracebridge course after the swim–a hilly bike ride and a hot run. But I finished and that felt good.

Lakeside is flatter and the weather was cooler. The organizers changed the start time to an hour later because of the temperatures. And they waited until about thirty minutes before the race to announce that it wasn’t going to be wetsuit mandatory (but they strongly recommended everyone wear a wetsuit). My coach brought me some arm warmers so I wouldn’t get cold on the bike ride. So yeah.

A couple of days before the race I told Sam I was dreading it. She said, “it’s flatter and cooler–you’ll do better!”

I can honestly report that I did do better. Kind of. I improved my time in all three things. I shaved just over 2 minutes off of the 1.5 km swim. I managed to finish the bike 6 minutes faster. And I cut my run time by 2 and half minutes. T1 was ridiculously long as I struggled to pull the arm warmers over wet skin and took some extra time to towel off so I wouldn’t be cold. 4 minutes and 50 seconds for T1 (as compared to 3:23 in Bracebridge).

It was all enough to get me to the finish line third last of those who finished (there were also three DNFs and I wasn’t among them!).

I’m going to do something a bit more random than a detailed race report, because, let’s face it, a race report from the person who finished third last just isn’t all that exciting. So here are some reflections:

1. I was so thankful that my friend and colleague, Chris, was racing with me that day.  We travelled together and gave each other pep talks. Sunday was Chris’ actual birthday (52 and she totally rocks!), so the mood was kind of celebratory.

2. Thankful too that I joined Balance Point Triathlon Club this summer and decided to race on our home course. We train there and it makes a difference to be in a familiar place. I was totally relaxed even though I experienced some resistance about wanting to do the race. Being a member of the club meant that I knew lots of people who were there. Club members who weren’t racing had volunteered to help out, so I encountered encouraging words from people I train with all along the course.  And of course, Gabbi the coach reminded me that I could do it, and brought those cool arm warmers that made a huge difference on the bike ride.

3. The Swim. I can’t say enough about how much I am enjoying swimming. Whereas last year when I did the Give-It-A-Tri at Lakeside I had something like a panic attack at the beginning of the swim that made me totally short of breath, gasping for the entire time, this year I felt relaxed and I fell into a nice rhythm almost immediately.  Training with a coach has helped me develop techniques to go into various swim “gears.” These have a lot to do with different breathing patterns.

My favourite race day breathing pattern is to breath two in a row on one side, then on the third stroke, then two in row to that side, then on the third stroke again. I don’t know what it’s called but I like it a lot. When I really want to kick into high gear I breath every two strokes. Training in the open water through the summer has also improved my sighting on the swim. Not having the blue line on the bottom of the pool makes it really easy to go off course.  Learning to sight without breaking speed and rhythm have really improved my swim times.

4. The Bike. Still not loving this part of the race, and of course it’s the longest bit of the course. Though I sometimes see 40 km an hour on my bike computer, I’m usually somewhere between 20-30, and in the end my average speed on the bike for this race came out at 21.8 km/hour. It’s clear to me that the bike is my nemesis. I pass no one on the bike and pretty much everyone in the race, even those well behind me after the swim, blast past me. It’s demoralizing to see zero improvement and I get that I am starting to sound like a whiny child whenever I talk about the bike. Sam has been encouraging me to ride with a women’s intermediate group on Thursday evenings through the fall, but their pace is usually about 28 km/hour. Though the coach says they will slow down if a slower rider joins them, there is no way I’m going to be the one to slow a group down by that much.

Anyway, on race day, I hauled on those arm warmers and jumped on the bike. Knowing that I wouldn’t be making any big progress on the bike that day, I used it to practice different techniques, play with the gears, work on my confidence on hills, and even commune with the natural world (it’s a nice rural course and by mid-morning, the weather was kind of pleasant).

I probably need to learn to suffer more on the bike.

5. It was great when I got back from the bike because Sam and Kim and our friend David were all there at the dismount line, along with Chris’ kids and her partner, Emma, cheering me on. That bolstered me a bit for the run, though truth be told the idea of running 10K after that bike ride seemed incredible to me.

6. The run. Well, as incredible as it seemed, I did it. By the time the run started the weather was actually perfect running weather. Not too hot, but not cold at all. I took the arm warmers off shortly into the run. The course at Lakeside is two 5K loops.  I suffered serious quad cramps over the first 2 km.  At the first water station, one of the speedsters I train with encouraged me to “push through the pain.”

When I finished the first 5K loop, there was a guy there directing people to the finish line.  I said, “Not me, I have another loop to do.”  He said, “Really?” He seriously looked flabbergasted. By this time the people in the next race (a Give-It-a-Tri that started three hours later) had already begun the run.  The last 5K was a psychological battle, not to finish — I knew I would finish — but to keep running. By this time, I just wanted it to be over. My quads cramped up again at about 6K, and I felt like I was hitting a wall. I tried some Heed at the water stations and sucked down a gel, but I was well and truly out of steam.

I got to the finish line and choked back some sobs as I approached. When I crossed, I saw no one I knew and that felt kind of good, actually, because I had nothing left for anyone. Sam et al. had long since gotten back on their bikes for the long ride home.  Chris was still there with the family and I caught up with them a bit later.

I found the food tent and filled a plate with banana pieces and pretzels and then sat myself down at a picnic table.

7.  I don’t know when it happened. I think it was some time during the last leg of the run.  People were encouraging me by name — this is why I love the fact that they have first names in HUGE letters on our race bibs — and I was chugging along.  And I had a surge of pride and satisfaction in what I was accomplishing.  If I look back at two years ago when Sam and I started our fittest by 50 challenge, I never for a minute would have thought I could complete an Olympic distance triathlon (or even a sprint distance, really) before my 50th birthday!  And here I was, doing it, just 10 days before the big day. Look at me!

Lakeside finish

Time: 3:44.28.5

Next up:  Toronto half marathon with my friend Anita on Sunday, October 19th.

racing · triathalon

Going the (Olympic) Distance

After the race: happy me!
After the race: happy me!

Sunday was the big day!  The day of my first Olympic Distance triathlon. Ever since last summer, this has been my “fittest by 50 goal.”

I trained. I gathered up some support–both of my parents and Renald dragged themselves out of bed in the dark so they could come cheer me on. I checked out the course ahead of time. I signed up way in advance, specifically choosing the Bracebridge Triathlon because it’s reasonably close to my parents and the timing was right.

And still I had my doubts.  See my post on wanting to quit but not quitting.

I definitely wanted this behind me before we left for our summer vacation to the Grand Canyon and then on to Burning Man.

It was a clear, hot, and sunny day, not the least bit humid. We made it to Annie Williams Park, a grass-covered picnic area on the river, before 7 a.m.  My nerves settled into my stomach half way there, and I had to run from the car to the bathroom before I could even think of getting my stuff ready or checking in.

By the time I got back to the car, Renald had my bike unpacked and my bag ready to go. I pumped up my tires–a well-formed habit I’ve gotten into doing before every single time I take the road bike out.  I grabbed my bag and wheeled the bike down to the registration area where I picked up my bib–#335–and my t-shirt (I should have signed up for the cap).

As I entered the transition area, I heard someone calling my name. I turned around and it was one of the guys who trains with Balance Point Triathlon, the club I swam with through the winter and joined for the summer. I wear a club suit when I race so it was easy for Kevin to pick me out of the crowd. He is a fast swimmer and, as I found out later, a fast cyclist and runner as well. He acknowledged my understandable nerves and assured me that I’d be fine.

I’d driven the bike course the day before. I would have liked to have ridden it, but it didn’t seem like a wise thing to do within less than 24 hours of the race. It’s a hilly course with lots of different kinds of ascents and descents–from short and steep to slow and steady.  I’ve gotten over my terror of hills, no longer regarding them with complete dread. But the course did kind of scare me. I knew I’d be taking it slow.

I set up my transition area in the way I’ve become accustomed to, laying everything out on a navy blue towel, folded in half beside my bike.  Like this:

bracebridge1I folded my wetsuit over my racked bike and went out to chat with Renald. The announcer kept reminding us there would be a pre-race meeting near the water at 8 a.m. to explain the “time-trial start” for the swim. Because it was a narrow course on a river, we were going to go in five-second intervals in order or our bib numbers (which were assigned by age).

With about 5 minutes to go until the meeting, I slicked myself up at key points with Body Glide and wriggled into my wetsuit, up to my waist.

Athletes were already in the water doing swim warm-ups.  My parents arrived, lawn chairs in hand, just when the meeting was about to begin. Renald set them up in a prime location at the swim finish.

The time-trial start meant lining up on the dock and then in the water, 50 at a time, when the announcer called your group.  It’s a bit more nerve wracking than the typical start in three waves because it involves a lot more waiting around after the race has begun.  The fastest athletes were at the very front, the elites competing in the Ontario Championships and seeking a spot on the Canadian national team.

Since my group wouldn’t be called for about 15 more minutes after the start, I waded into the river for a practice swim. The bottom was oozy and soft, the water briny and dark. Not my favourite conditions, but at least it felt warm. No alarming jolt when it filled the wetsuit and no problem for the face, hands, and feet.

I hung with Renald and my parents for a few minutes but then felt like I really needed to get my head in the game. Moving closer to the dock, I heard my name again. This time, it was a colleague from the medical school.  I had no idea he did triathlons. He’d done the course a few times, and started talking about the bike course.  As soon as he began to describe the steep hill just a few kms from the start, at Santa’s Village, I felt my stomach drop a bit.

“Have a good race!” I said.

Then my group was called.

Lining up in the water beside the dock for the swim at Bracebridge. That's me with the yellow cap. :)
Lining up on the dock for the swim at Bracebridge. That’s me with the yellow cap. 🙂

The Swim: 1.5 kilometres

By the time I got to the front of the line I didn’t have a lot a time to think.  A 5 second countdown isn’t very long. Just let’s say I’m glad I had my goggles in place because the next thing I knew I was swimming.  I settled into pace after about 50 metres. This is the first time I haven’t had any difficulty establishing my rhythm and my breathing at the beginning of a race. I passed a few people right away.

Then I felt my timing chip coming loose. The strap was dragging and I knew at least part of it had come away from the velcro. Trust me, this water was dark enough that a lost timing chip would be just that: lost.  I ignored it for a few minutes but then I had to stop and check it, for fear of it coming off.  I couldn’t figure out exactly what the problem was, but at least some of it was still stuck together so I was pretty sure it wouldn’t fall off. That little stop probably added 30 seconds because it broke my rhythm.

The swim took us along the shoreline on one side of the river for 720 metres, then we crossed to the other side (about 10 metres) and swam back, down along the other shore to the finish. I sighted regularly, keeping the enormous orange markers in view and on my left.  Green cones marked the turns, and there would only be three of them. The first one seemed to take forever to come into view.  I picked up the pace when I rounded it. I knew I had plenty in the tank for a negative split on the swim. I got caught behind someone on that stretch, having to hold up so as not to get kicked in the face, but I altered my course slightly to find a clear path. I caught site of some gnarly tree branches under the water, which freaked me out (read: irrational fear of things in the water).

I caught sight of the final green marker at the end of the swim, indicating the last turn which would be followed by a short stretch to the shore and the run up to the transition. I gunned it.

bracebridge swim finish


On shore, Mum, Dad and Renald were yelling “Go, Tracy!”  I smiled and ran a bit faster.

Swim time: 33:45 minutes.

Transition 1

I got all flustered in the transition area, despite having mapped out my course visually from the entrance prior to the race. I had to double back out of the duathlon bike area and when I found my bike I looked at everything on my towel and for a brief moment I had no idea what to do next.  Okay. Regroup. I pulled off the wetsuit and dabbed myself off with a towel. It was hot enough that it didn’t really matter if I was still wet.

I just wanted dry feet. So I threw the towel down and stepped on it while I grabbed my socks and pulled them on. Then the glasses and the helmet, bike shoes, gloves.  Things were moving in slow motion (not the best thing for a race).  I unracked the bike and ran out the “bike out” arch to the mount line.

“Come on, Trace!” Mum shouted.

T1 time: the transition times seem to have disappeared from the race results postings, but my T1 was my slowest ever, somewhere in the 3 minute range.

Running out of T1 for the bike ride.
Running out of T1 for the bike ride.

The Bike: 40 kilometres

Here’s the part where everyone passes me.

But I knew that would happen, so I had my own goals for the bike.  They were modest. I was going to use it to build confidence on my ability to make it up hills, fearlessness in letting it fly on the descents, and awareness of cadence and the sensation of “spinning” the pedals, especially the part where you’re supposed to feel like you’re scraping mud off your shoes.

By now the sun had risen high in the sky and it was getting hot. I could give a play by play, but instead, I think I’ll just give you some random highlights.

1.  I DID make it up all the hills. They were challenging. That Santa’s Village Hill my colleague told me about, for example, defeated at least one person in front of me because he was picking himself up after having fallen over trying to make it.  Me? I had to slowly grind my way up, huffing and puffing all the way.  The other challenging hill was a long, steady climb just before the turnaround point.  It went on and on and on. But I had my positive self-talk ready for that one.  I only considered bailing a couple of times.  And then I reminded myself that everyone always tells me I’m built to be a climber. So I repeated, aloud, “I’m a climber, I’m a climber, I’m a climber, I can do this, I can do this.” And I used all the tips I’d been given at the hill climbing workshop, letting up a bit as I came into a hill, then spinning at a high cadence into the climb, doing that mud scraping thing.

2. Drinking and eating on the bike is not my strong point, but I needed to do both if I didn’t want to run into trouble on the run.  I had some food handy in my new and wonderful bike bento box–my homemade endurance gel block shots.  I ate them at regular intervals and drank my water, laced with Emergen-C on the flats.  I practiced drinking while pedaling. But each time I took a drink, I lost time.

3. That demoralizing feeling of being left in the dust.  Other than that guy who fell over and another poor soul who had a flat, I didn’t pass anyone on the bike ride.  But oh, did people pass me! Each time, I had to buck myself up with some positive self-talk and remind myself that my only goal was to complete the race. There were a handful of people behind me — I saw that when I turned around. But yeah, it’s frustrating not to know what to do to go faster.  I spoke to a woman at the end of the race who is the first person I’ve ever talked to who “gets it.”  She too said that she just doesn’t understand how people go faster on the bike. It seems impossible to her that her time will ever improve.  Well, that’s how it seems to me.

4. The last leg of the bike, when I was all alone and could see no one else, and I still had a 10K run ahead of me, and I was well aware that it was approaching noon already and it would be hot, and I knew I’d been out there on the bike longer than I’d planned to  be–that’s when I thought briefly about bailing, and about downgrading my next triathlon in September to a sprint distance. But there is something about having to be accountable on the blog that can really motivate a person. So despite that little melodrama in my head, I kept at it (“I’m a climber, I can do this”) and I will be doing the Olympic in September.

When I got off my bike at the dismount line, mum said, “Wow, you look fresh!”

Bike time: 1:55:17 (I had hoped for between 1:30 and 1:45)

Transition 2

Uneventful except for the fact that the last thing I wanted to do at that point was a run a 10K.

T2 time: under 1:30 (but again, times seem to have disappeared from the website)

The Run: 10K

It was HOT. And despite looking fresh, I felt like I wanted to lie down on the grass in the shade of an old maple tree beside the river.  My run strategy was simple: I would try to keep my pace between 6:30 and 7:00 per kilometre, and that would bring me into the finish line within 1 hour and 10 minutes. I knew I could complete the 10K, it was just a matter of maintaining a decent pace.

I couldn’t keep it quite there.  The course was flat and had some shady bits, but the heat of the day was getting to me. At the water stations, I started to take extra and dump it over my head. That refreshed me for a few seconds each time.

Conscious that I was ignoring the received wisdom of never trying anything on race day you’ve not tried before, I drank some Hammer Heed because at that point I had over 5K to go and was worried about electrolytes. Mistake. Within minutes of drinking the Heed I felt bloated and heavy. This feeling stayed with me, in addition to overheated and just plain tired, to the end of the run.

It was an out and back course, so the people heading back were great for shouting out words of encouragement. I love the fact that this race series has our first names in large letters on the bibs, so you can support one another by name. It makes a difference.

Again, I passed no one. And by then, there weren’t many people left to pass me either. So I ran alone.

After the turnaround, about 10 cups of water over the head later, I noticed for the first time that my shoes were saturated with water. Each time I dumped it over the front of my head, it made its way down to my shoes. Slosh, slosh, slosh. That was for the last 4K.

Running isn’t scary because it’s so easy to walk. Nothing dangerous about it, you just slow down.  But I didn’t want to slow down. I knew my pace was faltering. I started to play little games with myself about making it to that tree or that house or that water station or that distance mark.

John, the guy behind me, passed me at the 8K mark, with the words, “I

wish that said 9K.”  I kept him in sight the rest of the way, but I couldn’t keep up.

And then I was turning into the park again, running down the grassy slope to the finish line.  Mum and Dad and Renald were yelling “Go, Tracy!” and others were saying, “You’re there!”

Run time: 1:18:48

Race time: 3:52:36

Crossing the finish line.
Crossing the finish line.

Of the 348 who finished, I was 343rd.  About six others succumbed to the heat and didn’t make it to the end.  My family greeted me at the finish line, Mum moved to tears by my accomplishment, Renald close behind her.

I did it!  It took a bit for it to sink in. This was the moment I’ve been training for all year. My fittest by 50 goal, accomplished!

I could probably write a separate post about what it feels like to finish in the bottom ten, but for now I’ll just say that those of us who endure to the end are out there a LONG time. Sean Bechtel, the champion, finished the entire course in 1:55:19, almost 2 full hours ahead of me!

I think the thing we most miss out on, us in the bottom ten, is the energy of the crowd.  By the time I got there, everyone had pretty much dispersed. There were still a few people eating pizza and packing up their stuff, but for the most part, everyone was gone.  The excitement of the announcer and people cheering at the finish line and coming in with other competitors is missing. It’s there in the shorter races–I felt it in Kincardine, for example. I love that finish line feeling when there are still enough people around to create that buzz in the air.

But that’s okay. I feel really good about my race day. I enjoyed myself a lot. If you’ll notice, I’m smiling in almost all of the pictures and that’s genuine. It was truly a fun time. And Mum, Dad, and Renald: Thank you for being there! I felt the love!

Next up: Lakeside Olympic Distance triathlon, September 14, 2015.